In the Chinese zodiac, 2018 is supposed to be the Year of the Dog, but a more suitable name might end up being the “Year of the Illegal Teacher Strike.” Hundreds of thousands of students in Kentucky and Oklahoma had no class Monday while their public-school teachers protested at state capitols during strikes for higher pay. Oklahoma’s teachers union is demanding $10,000 pay increases phased in over the next three years.
West Virginia teachers recently concluded a statewide walkout after illegally leaving their classrooms for nine days. Teachers in Jersey City, the Garden State’s second-largest metropolis, also illegally walked off the job for a day in mid-March. Teachers in Arizona are gearing up for illegal statewide strikes of their own, demanding a 20 percent pay hike.
Unions Have Parents By the Throat
Teacher strikes are firmly in the National Lampoon “if-you-don’t-buy-this-magazine-we’ll-kill-this-dog” school of negotiating. Unions know just how seriously disruptive these strikes can be to parents’ lives, so they use helpless children and their put-upon parents as pawns for more money.
This “pay us, or else” strategy works. When teachers walk out on kids, parents have to make alternative arrangements for them. “Can I bring the kids to work? Can I leave them home alone? Can I drop them off at the grandparents’? What about a babysitter? What about daycare? Can you get daycare for just one day? What about a week? How much is that going to cost? Can we afford it? How long is this going to go on?”
These questions and more are precisely why when these strikes happen then drag on, it’s not long before frazzled parents are ready to say, “Pay them whatever! Just get my kids back in school!”
Teacher Strikes Genuinely Hurt Kids
Students need constancy and consistency, and naturally they suffer academically when their teachers are out of the classroom. Ten days of teacher absences over the course of a school year can significantly reduce student achievement, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Teacher absences, NBER found, “radically reduced … instructional intensity” by creating “discontinuities of instruction [and] the disruption of regular routines and procedures of the classroom.”
Additionally, time children spend out of the classroom typically causes previous achievement gains to atrophy, especially for low-income students. Whereas most students come into a new school year having lost some of their gains in mathematics and reading from the previous school year, research has shown low-income students tend to lose more ground during their summer break than their higher-income peers.
Yet constancy and consistency is what public school students are not getting from their teachers, strikes or no strikes. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute looked at teacher absenteeism in states with both traditional public and public charter schools. To be considered “chronically absentee,” teachers had to miss 11 days of school per year. The researchers found 28 percent of teachers in traditional public schools, more than one in four, were chronically absent.
In Nevada, more than half of all the state’s public school teachers were chronically absent. In Hawaii, the number approaches 80 percent. Teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools that aren’t unionized.
It is no coincidence then that research has shown students who spend their full K–12 education career in public schools in states that require collective bargaining with teachers unions earn less money, work fewer hours, are more likely to be unemployed, and are more likely to be employed in lower-skilled jobs than are their peers in states without collective bargaining laws. Black and Hispanic boys whose full academic careers are spent in these union-dominated schools lose $3,650 per year in income and suffer almost an 8 percent drop in labor force participation compared to their peers in states without collective bargaining.
How to Help Parents Bargain Back
Parents should not be forced to sit idly by and watch their children be used as pawns in a struggle over money. Expanding school choice is exactly what is needed to empower parents and students and put them on an even playing field with that all-powerful, giant special-interest group with which they will never be a first priority: teachers unions. It is the most effective way of letting parents stand up to these behemoths.
Most importantly, private school choice gives students the constancy and consistency they require and deserve. The available empirical evidence on these private school choice programs makes it clear they positively affect the academic performance of participating students, while doing so at a lower cost than public schools and benefitting public school students, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.
Strikes are a part of the natural order in the collective bargaining process. However, when teachers strike, the children are always the losers. All parents, no matter their income, should be allowed to ensure their children have the opportunity to attend a safe and effective school, as well as one that’s free from the continual tug-of-war between school districts and teachers unions that catches parents and kids in the middle.
“A Dog’s most defining characteristic is their loyalty. They will never abandon their friends, family or work,” says ChineseNewYear2018.com. Teachers unions share none of these traits. And that is exactly why we need more true school choice.